Romanian opposition claims fraud in president vote

AP News
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Posted: Dec 07, 2009 12:10 PM

Romania's main opposition party claimed Monday that President Traian Basescu narrowly won re-election through a fraudulent vote.

The Social Democrats said left-leaning former Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana actually won Sunday's run-off, an election seen as crucial to addressing a government crisis and the country's painful recession.

With 99.95 percent of the vote counted, election authorities said centrist Basescu polled 50.33 percent of the vote, while Geoana received 49.66 percent.

However, Liviu Dragnea of the Social Democrats said there were too many voided ballots _ a total of 138,000 _ more than enough to make up the approximately 70,000 vote difference between the two candidates.

He claimed that some polling stations altered final documentation and possibly forged ballots sent to central election authorities. He also cited "massive electoral tourism," referring to the 617,000 voters who cast ballots at special voting centers, many of whom he claimed had already voted elsewhere.

"We contest the election," Dragnea said. "Romanians voted for Mircea Geoana, but Basescu's state apparatus is trying to make him the presidential winner through fraud."

Other leading politicians _ including top Liberal Party lawmaker Lucian Orban and former Prime Minister Adrian Nastase, who ran for president against Basescu in 2004 _ also noted irregularities.

Basescu dismissed the charges, saying that if there was a re-count, he'd win by three percentage points.

He accused the Social Democratic party of manipulating exit polls and said the fact the Social Democrats were contesting the elections was "embarrassing."

Observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said the second round of voting met their standards but urged authorities to investigate reports of irregularities.

The interior ministry said 200 irregularities were reported and that two people were detained for attempting to offer to buy their votes.

Representatives of four parties supporting Geoana outside Romania refused to sign off on the vote count, alleging multiple voting and claiming bribes were offered to people casting their ballots in Spain, Italy and Moldova.

Electoral judge Mircea Moldovan said Basescu won over 78 percent to Geoana's 21 percent from Romanians voting abroad.

Romania faces skyrocketing unemployment and a limping government since the ruling coalition fell apart two months ago amid party squabbling. The country is seeking to unlock a euro1.5 billion ($2 billion) International Monetary Fund bailout loan to pull it out of its deep recession but is unlikely to get one this year because of its political instability.

Basescu, 58, had seen his popularity drop this year due to the economic downturn and political feuding but still enjoys support, especially in rural areas and among the working class. He has pledged to modernize and reform Romania, saying much of the economy is under the control of corrupt oligarchs and media moguls with whom he links Geoana.

Geoana, a 51-year-old who served as Romania's ambassador to the United States and as foreign minister, heads the Social Democratic Party, the successor to the Communist Party that ruled for more than 40 years until the 1989 anti-communist revolt.

He styles himself as a modern Social Democrat, with former President Bill Clinton and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair his political role models.

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Associated Press Writer Alina Wolfe Murray in Bucharest contributed to this report.